Do you drink to thirst or drink to a plan?

  • Creator
  • #30981
    Rebecca Dent

    Rebecca the Uphill Athlete Dietitian here:

    I would be interested to know if UA’s have a hydration plan for training or a big day?
    What hydration systems do you use?
    How much fluid do you carry at any one time? And what is your choice of fluids? Hot or cold?

    The answer to my first question is probably a bit of both depending on circumstance, drink to thirst and at times drinking to a plan may be a better option. For example if you are running an ultra race with access to fluids at regular aid stations the recommendation is to drink to thirst. If you are high in the mountains, it’s cold (which suppresses our thirst response) and also given access to fluids will be limited, making a plan to take a mouthful in opportune moments or drink on a regular basis as practically possible will be a better strategy.

    What do you think?

Posted In: Nutrition

  • Participant
    Mariner_9 on #30983

    For hiking (usually ~6-8 hours), I take a hydration pack with 2 liters of water mixed with 4 Nunn tablets (non-caffeinated). I usually take some iodine tablets and refill from a stream. When I was younger I never bothered with the iodine and would drink straight from a stream but got more paranoid as I got older.

    For splitboarding (similar duration), I normally take a 1 liter collapsible water ‘bottle’ and a flask with 0.5 liters of herbal tea.

    My impression is I need at least ~0.5 liters of fluids per hour but don’t always get this and normally come back thirsty. For that reason, I try to take extra water and tea and leave them in the car for when I get back.

    derekosborne22 on #30988

    Hi Rebecca

    As you allude to, it’s a bit of both as many variables. Below is related to mountaineering (ski and walking with a bit of climbing), not running or racing.

    First of all I always try to start off well hydrated, and then carry 1 – 1.5 litres of fluid. In summer this will just be plain water, in winter it will be 1l cold water, 1/2l flask with fruit flavoured drink. Most of the places I go to I drink where I can straight off the hill to supplement as necessary, particularly in hot weather – a small collapsable silicon mug clipped to my belt is very useful for that. Once finished, I always have plenty of water in car and hydrate fairly frequently for a couple hours after off the hill – lots of small amounts – again plain water. Unless it’s particularly hot I find 1-1.5l enough for a full day on the hill.

    I also dress to try and minimise excessive sweating, although not always possible, in which case I’ll do a lot of augmentation with natural water off hill.

    I don’t use any proprietary hydration drinks, but will use semi-skimmed milk if available when off the hill.

    Hope this helps,

    briguy on #30989

    Great topic, as this is sort of a pet-peeve of mine. I think most people over-hydrate these days, which is exacerbated by a lot of use of things like salt-tabs in the ultra running community.

    My personal answer though is “it depends.” Most runs of any distance I will drink to thirst, and I tend to err on drinking less (meaning I won’t carry unless I really really think I need it). There’s such mentality out there of “gearing up” that alot of runners will wear a pack or carry a handheld when it’s not really needed (like for a 9-10m training run or a well-supported trail race with ample aid stations). A pack is just dead weight when not actually needed.

    I train in the southeast US so I’m used to hot/humid conditions that test my ability to rehydrate. So I rely on that experience for races around here, but if I go out west where the air is drier and I don’t have as good a feel for how much I’m sweating, I might drink a little more than normal. One method that works for me in such races is to carry a 16oz disposable bottle at the race start then make sure I finish it by mile 5 or so to get ahead of hydration a little, then I toss it at the first aid station (or better, crush it against my waistband) so I’m not bothered with it afterwards.

    Rebecca Dent on #31026

    Thanks Mariner_9 for your reply, sounds like you have a good handle on your hydration during your activities. 2L is about average for what most carry out on the hill and as you do, will fill up when there is opportunity to do so. Electrolyte tablets are ok to use to help aid the absorption of fluid, you can also get the same effect when eating and drinking together (so what ever food you have taken with you if you take a mouthful of food and wash it down with water then you will aid the absorption of fluid due to the energy and electrolyte content of the food stuffs).

    Great idea re the collapsable water bottle, takes up less room when empty and easy to stuff in your back pack. A flask is also popular I find with UA’s to take with them in the Winter. You may want to add some honey/sugar to your herbal tea and make the most of getting some extra energy on board and also the sugar will also aid the absorption of the tea better.

    With any big day out on the hill due to limited ability to carry water, access to fluids to re-fill, it is likely you will finish the day dehydrated and it is actually ok to do so. The aim of any hydration intake during big days is to try to off set significant dehydration where possible. It is then important especially if you are out again the next day you start to rehydrate as soon as you can, so your stash of fluids back at the car is really great!

    Rebecca Dent on #31027

    Hi Derek,

    Thanks for your reply! Again sounds like you have a really good handle of your hydration. I always recommend to all UA’s to start any training/activity session hydrated as dehydration is likely to occur due to the very nature of the environment and conditions these activities are undertaken (weight allowance to carry fluid, access to fluid, temperature, sweat loss). If we set off already dehydration then no doubt training/activity is going to be impaired as it is likely we will become even more dehydrated during the activity. Significant dehydration can increase perceived effort of the activity (it just feels harder to do) and effect cardiovascular function (e.g. increase heart rate), therefore it is really key to make sure to always start hydrated as you do. You have a similar approach to summer/winter and hydration system as Mariner_9 and make sure to rehydrate at the end of the day. Great tip on trying to minimise excess clothing to prevent excessive sweat loss. You are on to a good thing drinking semi skimmed milk (SSM) off the hill especially if you have another long day ahead of you the following day. SSM has been shown to be more effective than water in aiding re-hydration after activity due to again the energy and electrolyte content of milk. As you will know it is also great for providing a source or protein and carbs to kick start recovery as soon as you are off the hill. Milk can therefore be great if you need to be a bit more aggressive with your hydration after a big day to ensure you start hydrated the next and also for recovery.

    Rebecca Dent on #31028

    You make a good point Briguy regarding people having a tendency to over hydrate, I also agree the issue is also related to adding electrolytes to everything. There is now salts added to bars, gels, powders and sports drinks and then people use salt sticks/electrolyte tablets. When it comes to ultra endurance distances there is some new research suggesting that water and real food is sufficient in longer distances due to the physiological shifts that occur after exercising for long periods of a time. People are encouraged to drink at every aid station in races, carry plenty of water etc. as you have highlighted in the first instance this leads to extra weight being carried that is not required but of even more serious consequence body weight increases due to the additional volume of water consumed (this is not desirable especially in ultra distance events). Everyone’s hydration requirements are different and when it comes to mountain sports / ultra distance events then there are more variables to consider as you nicely highlight which requires even more ability to determine our own fluid needs in these instances. It will always be a
    an answer of ‘it depends’.

    Emil on #31068

    I great scientist, and a humble person

    Tim Noakes on the Serious Problem of Overhydration in Endurance Sports

    Rebecca Dent on #31113

    Thanks emo_assenov for the link to this article.

    Professor Tim Noakes’s research has certainly been key in shaping hydration recommendations for endurance athletes. Here is a link to a more current over view of the recommendations on hydration requirements in ultra endurance sports (which does also sight Noakes’s work). This has been put together by some of the leading researchers in this field.

    Considerations for ultra-endurance activities: part 2 – hydration (Martin D Hoffman, Trent Stellingwerf, Ricardo J.S Costa 2018)

    Pete on #31428


    after reading Noakes’s book Waterlogged I changed my view to hydration. Usually I would drink in regular intervals, taking a sip or two and usually ending up overhydrated. Now I usually already start well hydrated (drinking in the morning straight out of bed one cup of water or herbal tea – depending on the time of year), then I drink during my drive to the hills and just before I start from the car park – another sip or two. I rarely have more than 1 liter of fluid for the whole day. However, I have some gels with me that are very fluid and are more of a shoot of juice than a mushy gel. And of course, at the end of the workout (back at the car) I have some additional fluid available – if I need it. I also like to drink some chocolate milk immediately after the workout or some cola especially in warmer months of the year.

    Regarding the fluid I take with me – just plain water. If the duration is longer or I stay in the mountains for a couple of days then I take with me also one or two tablets to make a proper sports drink (something like Isostar and similar) that I usually make at the end of the day or in the second part of the workout (late afternoon) when my energy levels are somewhat depleted but not yet totally empty.

    Oh, and yeah, I tend to drink to thirst with no plan for drinking in certain pre-set intervals. I found out that this works very well for me as far as the intensity is low – aerobic. If I am doing hill sprints than I sip on a sports drink – mix of water, sugar and some salt.


    TerryLui on #31461

    I drink to thirst and carry plain water (up to 2L)
    If I feel initial onset of cramps, eat electrolyte snack (not sure if this is best practice…perhaps should stay on top of electrolyte intake to mitigate cramps?)

    Hydrate well prior to event (~1L of water in morning) and keep an extra bottle of water (1L) in the car for return. Then eat, eat, eat! Oh how I love eating….LOL

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